There was a time when the shelves of the Young Adult section at the bookstore (or even the library, as the more ancient among you may remember) were filled with stories of smart, urban, and overwhelmingly middle class children doing very normal and often humorous things. There was Peter Hatcher, the original Fourth Grade Nothing, in an apartment building near Central Park with his parents, his hyperactive brother Fudge, a nightmare toddler, a deranged myna bird named Uncle Feather, and his sometime nemesis Sheila Tubman, a.k.a. Queen of the Cooties.
Just a few blocks away lived Caroline Tate, a youthful dinosaur enthusiast, and her brother J.P., a surly math genius with a photographic memory, with their struggling single mother in a walk-up a few blocks away from the Museum of Natural History. In Cambridge, MA, we could visit Anastasia Krupnik, a seventh grader with literary pretensions, her startlingly verbal three-year-old brother Sam, and her cheerfully bohemian mother and father, a book illustrator and a semi-successful poet.
On the other side of the country, in Portland, was Ramona Quimby, with her bossy sister Beezus, her home-made clothes, and her doll named Chevrolet, whose family goes through a difficult time when Mr. Quimby is laid off from his job. And who could forget the eternal saga of the Babysitters Club, in the sleepy Connecticut town of Stonybrook, whose members read like a perfect laundry list of responsible diversity: Claudia (Japanese), Jessie (black), Mary Ann (shy), Stacey (diabetic), Kristy (the tomboy). All were average kids with real-world problems: sibling rivalry, parents who worried about money, divorce, insecurity.
They’re all still there, these old friends, although they don’t occupy the prime bookshelf real estate they did in the past. Superfudge may have been priced out of Manhattan, but he’s still lurking around the bookstore equivalent of Carnasie or Forest Hills as another demographic has moved in. The Young Adult section has more than gentrified – it’s become downright aristocratic.